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What Michael Bradley 2.0 means for Chris Armas’ TFC

The Waking the Red Weekly crew plus John Molinaro of TFC Republic discuss.

MLS: Concacaf Champions League-Leon at Toronto FC
Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley (4) controls the ball arounds Leon defender Jaine Barreiro (21) during the first half at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC’s impressive performance against Club León last week gave fans their first glimpse of the rumoured more attacking role for veteran midfielder Michael Bradley.

In the latest edition of Waking The Red Weekly presented by Footy Talks, special guest John Molinaro of TFC Republic gave his expert assessment of Bradley’s shift higher up the pitch and explored what it could mean for Chris Armas’s overall game plan:

“I think it was a very impressive performance. Michael Bradley said in essence they’re asking him to be a bit more of a two way player—like when he first came to TFC.”

“I first really started noticing him when he was in Italy playing for Chievo Verona and AS Roma. When he first went to Italy it was a pretty bold move in his career. I thought: ‘oh man, an US international going to Serie A? That hasn’t worked out all that well in the past.’ But, especially at Roma, he made a very good account of himself, and was part of a new breed of midfielders in that league—guys who could combine power and athleticism with skill and ability on the ball.”

“He’s always been dogged in his pursuit of the ball, and trying to win it back, but I think now it’s a matter of being clever and more systematic. And I think you saw that in the first leg against Club León. He was around the ball a lot more, higher up the field, in a more advanced position, and contributing more on the offensive end. He had a great chance to score in the second half, where he fired a low drive from about 25 yards to the near post that really forced a great save out of the goalkeeper.”

“I think overall it was a good first glimpse of the ‘new’ Michael Bradley. And it’s a bold move too. I mean Michael Bradley is Michael Bradley—he’s one of the best number 6’s in the league. I appreciate Chris Armas has a long history with him, but still, to come in and say to the captain, first thing, we want to ask something a little bit different from you—I mean that’s a pretty bold move to make.”

While fans will have enjoyed seeing Bradley more involved in the team’s attacking moves, questions still remain about the veteran midfielder’s fitness. And as it’s more typical for players to drop into deeper and less physically demanding positions with age, Molinaro expressed caution over Bradley’s ability to perform consistently over the length of the season:

“I think he’s up for the challenge. But I do think it is a bit of a concern. Managing Michael Bradley’s minutes wasn’t Greg Vanney’s strongest point right? With all due respect, Michael would have to have been dead to not have played. If he wanted to play then he was going to play, regardless of the situation—god love him for it because that’s just the way he’s built right?”

“So I’m interested to see how Chris Armas deals with this. Bradley is 33 so there has to be some sort of consideration around managing his minutes and his game time. Especially with this more athletic style and high press that Armas wants to play. Michael Bradley is a fantastic athlete—he keeps himself in really good shape and it very well could be that he won’t have any problems adjusting and he’ll be OK as the season progresses.”

“But it is asking a lot of him and he’s not getting any younger. If Bradley starts to fade throughout the season it’ll be interesting to see how Chris Armas handles that and how that conversation goes, telling your captain—and the guy you mentored as a kid—‘hey you’re going to have to sit this one out because we want to save you for the weekend’. I think that’s going to be a really interesting development to watch over the course of the campaign.”

MLS: Concacaf Champions League-Leon at Toronto FC Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

For Mitchell Tierney, while managing Bradley’s gametime will be key for Chris Armas, moving the club captain higher up the pitch also provides new opportunities for key members of the squad:

“I think we talked about it on the first ever episode of this show—the fact that Greg Vanney sometimes didn’t know when to tell Michael Bradley to sit. And I think it kind of hurt both the player and the team towards the end of the season, because he did just look tired. With that being said, I think this is a great position for him and we saw why in the game against Club León .”

“We alway knew Michael Bradley was a great presser of the ball, but in the past, teams have known that if you see Michael Bradley pressing up, yeah you’re a little bit concerned but if you knock it by him who’s going to be there to recover for you, right? And I think Toronto FC have a much better balance now. If Bradley’s playing that more advanced role there are now guys in behind who can pick up scraps and the balls that get past him.”

“I think they relied too much on him to shield the back line in the past while still hunting for balls. There was a time when he absolutely could still do that without it being an issue. But now his legs have gone a little bit. I really like what I’ve seen from a guy like Ralph Priso. We know that Delgado and Osorio have that ability as well. So I think it’s just about defining those roles and not having Michael Bradley shield the backline now, and having him play a little bit further forward. I think that’s going to play big dividends this season.”